Crossovers between different properties are nothing new yet more often than not often reek of desperation and/or a cheap marketing ploy. I’m sure I don’t need to remind anyone of the infamous 1990 Cartoon All-Stars to the Rescue ant-drug special. However, when a Batman vs. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles animated feature was announced back in February, there was absolutely no hint of cynicism from fans. In fact, I’d go far as to say the reaction online to this joint project from Warner Bros., DC Entertainment, and Nickelodeon was overwhelmingly positive. Based on the crossover comic Batman/Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles miniseries published by DC Comics and IDW and written by James Tynion IV and drawn by Freddie Williams II, the comic proved a critical and commercial success resulting in two more sequels, the third and final installment hitting shelves in May. Fans fortunate enough to attend WonderCon last month had the chance to catch the Batman vs. TMNT world premiere long before the general release and The Beat caught up with the cast/crew about bringing this unlikely team-up to life.
When adapting any work for another medium, changes are bound to occur and Batman vs. TMNT is no exception. Perhaps the biggest departure from the main comic is that Batman and the Turtles inhabit the same world as opposed to interdimensional travel. It’s a change producer Ben Jones endorsed from the start. As he explained, “I like the old DC/Marvel crossovers like Superman versus Spider-Man and Batman versus Hulk. Their approach was basically Superman lives in Metropolis, Spider-Man lives in New York. They just never meant until now. The advantage of that was it saves us a lot of time in storytelling and mileage. We didn’t have to keep explaining this portal technology over and over again. That gave us more time for punching which is always fun.”
Obviously, since dimensional plays such a pivotal part of the Tynion/Williams mini, it was up to screenwriter Marly Halpern-Graser to translate the spirit of the comic while taking taking the story in a different direction. “What I tried to do was stick to the general structure and tone of the comic as much as I could even with the changes we would have to make. I tried to find specific scenes from the comic that I thought would work really well in a moving animated medium and tried to get them in verbatim,” said Halpern-Graser. “The overall general structure of the movie is very similar to the comic even though we had to change a lot of the details. There are specific scenes and moments lifted directly from the comic which I’m really really glad we were able to get in because the comic is really great.” Two particular Michelangelo moments from the comic that Halpern-Graser was extremely pleased to get into the film were Mikey atop the T-Rex in the Batcave and riding a skateboard and bumping into Alfred.
For director Jake Castorena, who considers this a bucket-list project, the idea of removing the dimensional aspects seemed blasphemous but he realized it was a “godsend.” To his surprise Batman and the Turtles fit in perfectly with each other. “These universes are not that different. They both study ninja and Bushido. It’s about discipline it’s about striking hard and fading away into the night. I know that’s a Turtle’s quote but how often does Batman live by that creed. There was a lot of figuring out that we didn’t need to do because it just worked. We were able to try to take the existing mythos and just hopefully add to and embellish them more.”
The Caped Crusader and Turtles in a Half-Shell have been reinterpreted countless times over the course of their respective histories, oscillating between their original dark and gritty origins to more lighthearted humor. “We want Batman to be a little more serious than the Turtles so that there’s contrast,” said Halpern-Graser. “And we want the Turtles to be a little more serious than they were the 80’s cartoon so that they fit in this world with Batman so it doesn’t feel like they’re in a different cartoon.” Viewers will notice that the Turtles have all-white eyes as opposed to irises and pupils, which typically signifies a tone more in line with the ’84 Mirage comics. Veteran comic artist Andy Kuhn whose credits include the current IDW TMNT series actually drew the preliminary designs for the film with lead character designer Steven Choi coming in and making Kuhn’s designs more animation friendly.
Batman vs. TMNT certainly doesn’t shy away from violence and earns its PG-13 rating. Halpern-Graser cited the first 1990 Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles live-action film as a jumping off point for this version of the Ninja Turtles in that, “[While] the Turtles themselves are very goofy, the movie takes the world relatively seriously.” Hardcore fans will definitely catch some of the direct homages to the 1990 film such as the shot of Shredder when he first confronts the Turtles replicated exactly when he first appears in the animated film. As an old-school fan of the Turtles in Time on the Super NES, Castorena advised to be the on lookout for references to that classic video game.
When it came to casting the vocal talent, executives from all companies involved weighed in, with Gene Vassilaros who works primarily for Nickelodeon serving as casting director. One of the mandates from Nickelodeon according to Ben Jones was not to use the existing actors from the then current TMNT animated series. For Batman vs. TMNT the filmmakers enlisted Eric Bauza as Leonardo, Darren Criss as Raphael, Baron Vaughn as Donatello, and Kyle Mooney as Michelangelo. Funny enough, Halpern-Graser and Baron Vaughn are friends going back to when they both performed standup comedy in the early 2000’s and Vaugh evening voicing a character the Right Now Kapow cartoon that Halpern-Graser co-created. Halpern-Graser was always going to push for Vaughn as Donatello but it turned out he didn’t have to since Vaughn was also producer Ben Jones’ top choice.
This project isn’t the first foray into the world of Ninja Turtles for former animator turned voice performer Eric Bauza. Having played the villainous Tiger Claw in the aforementioned 2012 Nickelodeon cartoon, Bauza currently voices the rodent sensei Master Splinter in Rise of the TMNT. Moreover, much like voice legend Rob Paulsen, Bauza has the distinction of voicing two different Turtles in multiple projects—Donatello in the TMNT: Don vs. Raph animated short and even Leonardo in another animated short Turtles Take Time (and Space) long before Batman vs. TMNT. As it turned out, voicing Leo is quite a unique experience for him. “It’s the weirdest voice because it’s just my own. I’m used to not using my voice. It’s definitely hyped up a bit in the film.,” Bauza attested. “This version of Leo is back to basics. He is the leader in blue.”
Much like Bauza, Andrew Kishino didn’t begin as a voice actor. Kishino’s time in the music industry eventually led him to pursuing a career in voice acting. An unabashed fan of the original 80’s Mirage comics Kishino also had a role in the 2012 TMNT cartoon as the Purple Dragon gang member Fong. This time around, he’s the TMNT premiere foe, the Shredder. “I was extremely excited to be chosen for this role of Shredder. But knowing how many people had inhabited that iconic role, I had two choices. I can go in and listen to what they did or having a vague memory of what they’ve done. Or take a look at who Shredder is. Take a look at what the skills that he’s used to train as a martial artist. Look at the pursuit of Bushido code and then look at him from an emotional standpoint. Those things drive what I put into the character.”
Complimenting Shredder is the leader of the League of Assassins Ra’s al Ghul, a dream role for actor Cas Anvar. “I have loved him [Ra’s al Ghul] ever since Batman Begins with Liam Neeson. I’ve been collecting comics since I was a kid,” revealed Anvar. “The idea of a character that is centuries old that has all this experience and knowledge from the masses of humanity like a vampire. He’s been living year after year watching empires rise and fall. That’s an incredible character to be able to portray. Someone who is so methodical and so focused on one mission and he’s not necessarily wrong. Batman and him are not necessarily going for different things. Ra’s is willing to do whatever it takes.”
As noted in the animated feature’s PR, Troy Baker is the first actor to take on Batman and the Joker in one project. You can thank publicist supreme Gary Miereanu for coming up with such a genius notion. According to Baker, the decision to have him play Batman and Joker simultaneously came about, “Because they know I do this when cameras aren’t rolling and no mics are in play. I will just go back and forth between these two people. This is what we do as actors. We’re crazy people. We’re crazy people walking around with these crazy characters in their head and we’re just waiting for someone to give us an opportunity to just get them out to give us the proper catharsis.” Baker did concede that the dual roles did take quite a lot out of him after each session. “I’ve watched Mark [Hamill] do Joker before and it’s just effortless. It’s not fair. He’s too good at it. Whenever I do Joker, I left that session thinking I couldn’t talk for awhile or be the same again.”
Those who have seen the film already know that a post-credits scene teases the possibility of a sequel. Though there is no official word whether a sequel is in the works, Halpern-Graser and Jones would certainly love another crossover project only this time bringing Batman into the world of the Ninja Turtles with a more sci-fi bent incorporating villains like Krang as well as Bebop and Rocksteady. That should give fans incentive to pick up a copy when Batman vs. TMNT is available on Digital and Blu-ray!
This spring, Warner Bros. Animation and Warner Home Entertainment are teaming up with DC Entertainment and Nickelodeon for Batman vs. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, an all-new animated movie that unites everyone’s favorite turtles with the Caped Crusader for the first time outside of the comics page. Based on the Batman/Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles comics miniseries by James Tynion IV and Freddie Williams II, the film will see the turtles meeting Batman and feature our heroes teaming up to face Batman’s deadly rogues gallery.
The film’s voice cast features Troy Baker (The Last of Us, Batman: Arkham Origins) as both Batman and the Joker (making him the first actor ever to take on both roles in one project), Darren Criss (the Emmy-winning star of The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story) as Raphael, Kyle Mooney (Saturday Night Live) as Michelangelo, Baron Vaughn (Grace and Frankie) as Donatello, Eric Bauza (The Woody Woodpecker Show) as Leonardo, Rachel Bloom (Crazy Ex-Girlfriend) as Batgirl, Tom Kenny (SpongeBob SquarePants) as the Penguin, John DiMaggio (Adventure Time) as Mr. Freeze, Tara Strong (The Powerpuff Girls) as both Harley Quinn and Poison Ivy, Carlos Alazraqui (Reno 911!) as Bane, and Cas Anvar (The Expanse) as Ra’s al Ghul.
Batman vs. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles arrives from Warner Bros. Home Entertainment on Digital starting May 14, 2019, and on 4K Ultra HD Combo Pack and Blu-ray Combo Pack on June 4, 2019.